Wendy Wasserstein – A Finished Note

Wendy and the Lost Boys was a slow read for me – not because it was difficult. Reading about Wendy Wasserstein’s life was more like a very long article in New York magazine or Vogue – with enough name-dropping to make it gossipy but with the added value of historical context and life-changing decisions. As Salamon marches through Wasserstein’s home life, college, and post-college angst, she clearly connects the early formative years to later success. If everyone you meet in life has some influence on how you see the world, Wendy’s cast of family and friends was the ultimate confirmation of this. Those around her were stored in her brain for retrieval as characters in her plays. In return, they often had the misfortune to recognize themselves on stage.

Nevertheless, her charged humor was successful not just because she “wrote what she knew.” If her characters seemed stereotyped, it was only because she had the models in her life: the nagging mother, who wants her daughter to be thin and marry a rich guy; the competitive brother who could not be beat; the gay friends she fell in love with but would never marry (Wasserstein wrote the screenplay for “The Object of My Affection”).

More than any of these, it was the professor who saw her possibilities; the colleagues who made her feel smart; the friends who bolstered her ego; her “husbands” who supported her – if you are lucky, you had at least one of each in your life. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have something in common with her; Wendy Wasserstein was unique.

So – the slow read…Salaman traces recent history in Wendy’s life: John F. Kennedy, Kent State, the Pentagon Papers, the Clinton Presidency, the attack on the World Trade Center. Familiar names of actors, directors, and writers line the narrative – the people and the times who made her who she was, and gave her the material to write. By the end, you may think you know her too.

Wendy and the Lost Boys

When I saw Wendy Wasserstein sitting in an audience in New York City, I was like all the others Julie Salamon said “would stop her on the street…not with starstruck awe but with familiarity…”  Like everyone else, I thought I knew her; I even have a friend who went to Mt. Holyoke, her alma mater.  Watching her plays felt like having a private conversation with a good friend.  In Wendy and the Lost Boys, a biography of Wendy Wasserstein, Salamon promises to reveal some of the private secrets behind the public life of the playwright.

I’ve studied the pictures preceding each chapter and read through her beginnings, growing up in an immigrant family in Brooklyn from 1950 – 71.  Her mother married twice – Wasserstein’s father was also her uncle, and her older step-brother, Abner, was quietly placed in a “special” school.  More secrets to be revealed? Who fathered her child?  What was it like having Meryl Streep as a fellow graduate student?  Salamon’s story reads like a long gossipy magazine article with sections on “becoming a writer,” the Pulitzer prize winning Heidi Chronicles, famous friends, mother of a toddler at age 50…

“A friend often told her, ‘You were born into great material.'”

Francine Prose, wrote a review of the book for the New York Times:   What Wendy Wasserstein Wrought.   Charles Isherwood’s 2006 article – Her Plays Spoke to a Generation – not only summarizes her writings and craft but also shows her as the flagbearer for women who could laugh at themselves while they thought they could or should have it all – husband, children, and career.

For Wendy, two out of three wasn’t bad.